§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(The Earl of Mayo.)
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, that he rose on his own part, and on the part of those who sat near him, to say that they had no intention of opposing the second reading of this Bill. At the same time, he wished to say that, in the opinion of most of those who sat on that side of the House, there were many important points in the Bill upon which it would be their duty in Committee to raise some serious discussions and propose some important changes. In fact, they took the Bill on its second reading as the foundation 1950 of a Reform Bill for Ireland; but beyond that they were not inclined to go. The Bill was divided into two heads, that of the franchise, and that of the re-distribution of seats. As to the borough franchise, he admitted that there was much to be said in favour of the course that Government had taken in availing themselves of the line drawn by the existing law of rating under the Poor Law system, and fixing the franchise at a £4 rating. He must, however, say that he thought that it would be impossible to maintain the county franchise at the figure at which it at present stood—namely, £12. He admitted that when, in 1866, he himself introduced a Reform Bill for Ireland he did not propose to lower the county franchise; but the state of things had since then materially altered. After the great reduction which had been effected in the county franchise in England, and when it was proposed to reduce it in Scotland, it would be very difficult to persuade the people of Ireland to be satisfied with a Franchise Bill that left the county franchise at its present rate; while the reduction of the borough franchise would add but a very small number to the total of the electors. So long as eighteen years ago, an £8 franchise was proposed for Irish counties by Earl Russell; and therefore it was hardly possible that now a £12 franchise would be agreed to. He did not believe that a lower franchise would produce a very different constituency; but, at all events, it would be a more extended and more popular franchise. As to the proposed re-distribution of seats, there was scarcely anything in that portion of the Bill to which he could give assent; and to the greater part of the proposals, he thought that there were most serious objections. It was quite true that the towns of Ireland were comparatively small in number of population, and were inferior in valuation to the counties; but he held this to be a sound principle for an Irish Reform Bill, that the transfer from the borough representation to the county representation should be confined within the smallest possible limits. The county representation of Ireland, however respectable and important, was of an extremely uniform and monotonous character; for the constituency consisted almost exclusively of landlords and tenants. On the other hand, the boroughs, though somewhat insignificant when compared with the great towns of England and Scotland, were important as centres of representation, 1951 and were the only means by which various interests could find representation in the House. Further, as Irish prosperity developed itself and Ireland ceased to be an exclusively agricultural country, the importance of the towns would every year increase. He objected to the proposed re-distribution, because it was not founded upon any distinct rule or governed by any standard of population, of electors or of property; and not being founded upon any rule, the scheme would require justification in every particular instance. He held that if small Irish boroughs were to be disfranchised, the system should have been the one which had uniformly been adopted in former Bills, that of taking the boroughs smallest in population; but the Government had passed over some of the smallest boroughs, and had extinguished boroughs that had a far stronger claim for representation. He thought that there was a great deal to be said in favour of a system of grouping as applied to Irish boroughs. He further objected to the proposition to transfer the borough Members to counties; and it was, at all events, a new thing to divide a county into two unequal parts, and say that two-thirds of the county should return two Members, and that the other third part should be formed into a separate electoral district to return one Member to Parliament. Whilst they had not thought it right in the case of counties to give a third Member to the whole constituency, yet they did in this way give the third Member to the city of Dublin. These were the principal points which, so far as he knew, it would be their duty to raise in Committee.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
, who had given Notice of his intention to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, that he thought that it was hardly in accordance with the rules of Parliamentary courtesy for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Fortescue) to state his own opinions at that time, when he (Colonel French) had a distinct Notice in opposition to the Bill upon the Paper. The Government stated that one of the principal reasons for continuing in Office was their desire to carry out Reform Bills for Ireland and Scotland. So far as he and those who acted with him were concerned, the Government need not burden themselves with such an Office, for there was not a single portion of the Irish Bill with which they were content. The Bill was objectionable from the beginning to the end, and, judging from the numerous Notices 1952 given by his hon. Friends from Scotland, in regard to the Scotch Bill, they were equally dissatisfied with the Scotch measure. As regarded this Bill, it was a matter of perfect indifference whether the dissolution of Parliament took place before or after the passing of the Bill, for many of the Irish Members believe that a new Parliament would give Ireland a better Bill. It was remarkable that in this Reform Bill there was no reference to the county franchise. It was not even alluded to in the Bill. Was it to be borne that the English county franchise was to be increased by 170,000, and that not a single vote was to be added to the Irish county constituency; and that only 9,000 votes were to be added to the Irish borough constituency, when the English borough constituency was to be increased to the extent of 400,000? He believed that, if the Bill were thrown out altogether the House would be able to pass a really good measure with as much expedition as would enable them to pass this; but he would not make the Motion of which he had given Notice, but would rather ascertain the views of those who sat with him upon the Opposition Benches.
§ MR. REARDEN
, who had a Motion upon the Paper declaring that it was expedient that an Irish Reform Bill should provide for resident manhood suffrage and vote by ballot; that no borough should be disfranchised; and that the representation, of Ireland should be placed on an equality with that of England and Wales—namely, one Member for every 40,000 of population—said, he would not offer any obstruction to the second reading of the Bill by moving that Amendment; but would reserve to himself the right of moving Amendments in Committee. At the same time, he thought Ireland was not receiving equal justice with England in her representation; and he should be able to prove in Committee that, from her population, her imports and exports, and her revenue Ireland was entitled to 169 Members if she were put on a footing of equality with England and Wales in regard to her representation.
MR. PEEL DAWSON
expressed his disappointment that, in the portion of the Bill relating to re-distribuiion of seats, justice had not been done to the claims of the province of Ulster, whether on the score of numbers, assessment of property, or of the visible signs of progress and industry. The Census of 1861 showed that, out of the total population of Ireland, amounting to 5,790,000, the population of 1953 Ulster was 1,915,000, or exactly one-third of the whole. But, of the 105 Members returned from Ireland, only 29, or little more than a fourth, came from the Northern province. If its due proportion, therefore, were allotted, Ulster should have 35 Members. Contrasted with the other provinces of Ireland, the injustice was still more striking. Ulster had a population greater by 500,000 than that of Minister, yet Ulster had only two Members additional. The population of Leinstcer was 1,452,000, as against 1,915,000 in Ulster; yet Leinster had 34 representatives, while Ulster had only 29. Contrasted with Scotland, the anomaly was even more striking. Under the proposed arrangements, Scotland would, in future, return at least 60 Members; Ulster, with a population equal to two-thirds of that of Scotland, would upon that scale be entitled to 40 representatives. The people, moreover, had a common origin, and were very similar in character and pursuits. Judging by the Irish standard, Ulster would thus be entitled to 35 Members; and if the Scotch precedent were acted upon, she ought to have 40. He regretted that the system of grouping had not been introduced into the Irish Bill. That system had been found to work advantageously in Scotland and Wales, and he did not see why it should not be tried in Ireland. Under such a system several excellent districts might have been created in the North of Ireland. In Armagh, Lurgan and Portadown would have formed a good constituency, with a population of 16,000; and Newtownards and Ballymena might be similarly associated. The county of Antrim should be divided into two parts for representation, and he thought the city of Londonderry possessed superior claims to Galway in the same respect. He was of opinion that the representation of the North should be strengthened, even although it should be done at the expense of the South. He was willing to accept the proposition of the Government with regard to the franchise. He congratulated them on not lowering the county franchise below the figure at which it was proposed to fix it. He did not quite approve the reduction of the franchise in the boroughs, as he feared it might have an injurious effect in certain towns in which disaffection was said to exist; but he did not think the Government had any choice in the matter, because it would not be possible to keep up a higher rate of franchise in a poorer county than that which had been decided 1954 on for England. They must only trust to the healing influences of remedial legislation, and to that spirit of loyalty which actuated all persons of property and influence in Ireland.
§ MR. PIM
thought that the scheme for the re-distribution of seats was very defective; and, unless it were improved in Committee, he was of opinion that it would be better to confine the Bill to the franchise. He should have no objection to see additional Members given to Ulster, if that could be done without taking them from the other provinces. It appeared to him that the Government ought to have had recourse to the system of grouping which had worked so well in Scotland and in Wales, and which was peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of Ireland. No fewer than eighty-four Irish boroughs had been disfranchised at the Union. In many cases, probably, the disfranchisement took place with the object of bribing the owners by payment for their interest in those boroughs. He thought they ought to make use of the present opportunity to remedy the error then committed, and replace the most important of those towns in the rank of boroughs; and, by uniting them to some of the existing boroughs, form groups, which would be as valuable a portion of the Irish constituencies as they are of the Scotch and Welsh. He objected to the proposed disfranchisement of the six small boroughs, because it would weaken the borough constituencies, and thus afford a plausible argument for giving increased representation to the counties at the expense of the boroughs; and he thought it would be wrong to decrease the borough representation. The large and important county of Cork had certainly a strong claim to be divided into two ridings, and to return four Members instead of two; but no valid reason had been shown for taking these additional members from the boroughs. The electors in boroughs were generally much more independent in their action than the electors in counties; and it would therefore, be decidedly a loss to the independence of the constituencies if the borough representation was diminished. Another objection to the Government proposal as to the six small boroughs was that, supposing their plan of franchise to be affirmed, a large number of the present electors in these boroughs would be deprived of the franchise, as they would lose the right of voting in the boroughs; and their qualification is not sufficient to entitle 1955 them to vote for the county. With regard to the county representation, he found that England had 172 county Members to 295 Members sitting for boroughs and cities. Wales—which was in very much the same position as Ireland—had 15 Members for counties and 14 for boroughs and cities; Scotland, 30 county Members and 23 borough and city representatives; while in Ireland the proportion was 64 county Members to 39 Members sitting for cities and boroughs. Surely, looking at these numbers in Great Britain, no one could think of proposing any further reduction in the city or borough representation of Ireland. He had ventured to propose a system of grouping. He would not say that it was the best that could be devised, as a private Member had not the information which the Government could command; and it was from the Government that such a proposal ought properly to come. He had proposed to group fifty-three towns in fourteen groups, each group having an average population of about 20,000, and the aggregate amounting to 289,853 persons. According to the franchise scheme of the Government these groups would probably have about 16,700 electors, and it would raise the whole civic and borough constituency of Ireland to about 1,048,000 inhabitants and 57,000 electors. He could not help expressing his surprise that the Government did not contemplate bestowing a third Member upon the thriving and important borough of Belfast—an addition which ought also, in his opinion, to be made to the representation of Cork. He desired, moreover, to call attention to the fact that it was not proposed to give a Member to Kingstown, which, if represented, would rank fifth in regard to population, and fourth in regard to wealth, of the boroughs in Ireland.
§ MR. VANCE
, in spite of the criticism which had been bestowed upon the measure, regarded it as one which, on the whole, dealt with the question in a satisfactory manner. He believed, however, that the claims of Ulster had not been fully recognized. Many of the towns in Ulster were of greater importance than boroughs in the South, with whose representation it was nut proposed to interfere. If the population of Scotland were compared with that of Ireland, it would, he believed, be found that the claims of the former country had received ample acknowledgement. Yet it was proposed to give seven additional Members to Scotland. It would, 1956 therefore, in his opinion, be but equitable that two of those seven Members should be given to Ulster, or that the South of Ireland should make some slight sacrifices to meet the just claims of the North. Instead of adopting the principle of grouping, it would be better to give additional representation to the large towns in the North. He was unable to agree with the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim), that the town populations were more independent than the county populations. No doubt the people of the borough which he himself had the honour to represent were perfectly independent, because it was a manufacturing borough, and they required no extraneous aid; but this was far from being the case in other Irish boroughs. He had not long ago contested Dublin with the hon. Member (Mr. Pim), and could hardly think his supporters in that city were so enormously independent, as the accounts rendered showed that the legitimate net expenses of the hon. Member amounted to not less than 7,000 and some odd hundred pounds. That kind of thing was quite unknown in the North, where the people were characterized by the stubborn independence which they had inherited from their forefathers. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the Government would grant increased representation to the North of Ireland.
MR. SERJEANT BARRY
said, he would oppose the scheme of the hon. Member for Dublin, as the wildest that was ever invented. It deprived the counties of those independent elements which boroughs supplied, and it grouped a number of boroughs without making provision that those towns should not lose representation. As to the Bill itself, he was unable to support it, because he thought that as a measure of enfranchisement it was altogether insufficient. And the scheme of re-distribution was only calculated to increase the number of those who support the present Government. An £8 franchise was the very least that could be proposed for counties. The principle of the Bill was really to transfer the power to counties, which were in the hands of a few proprietors, who marched their tenantry to the polling booth, too often accompanied by Her Majesty's troops. He objected to the Bill in its two great branches, because it was not framed fairly and impartially to arrange the distribution of political power, but had been done in the interests of a particular party.
§ SIR JAMES STRONGE
pleaded for 1957 the independent representation of the towns of Lurgan and Portadown, in the county of Armagh, on the ground of their increased population and importance. He felt bound to insist that the representation of Ireland should be treated in the same liberal manner as that of Scotland.
§ COLONEL GREVILLE-NUGENT
trusting that the Bill would pass in an altered form, thought it unwise to oppose the second reading. Its provisions violated the principles of the English Bill. One was that no borough should be disfranchised; and this Bill disfranchised six. There were more borough Members than county Members for England; Ireland had sixty-four county to thirty-nine borough Members; and yet it was proposed to reduce the borough and increase the county representation. To transfer counties to boroughs without reducing the county franchise was to restrict rather than extend the franchise. The difficulty was to lower the franchise in the poorer county to the same comparative point as in the richer; but he believed it would be necessary to make a considerable alteration in its provisions regarding this point.
SIR HERVEY BRUCE
confessed he had no timorous feelings regarding the reduction of the franchise, and expected that, in that lower stratum, they would find an amount of support on which hon. Members opposite little calculated. It was against the elaborate scheme of grouping embodied in the Bill that he now rose to protest—a system that worked badly both in Wales and Scotland, and which he should be sorry to see forced upon Ireland. Those who represented small constituencies in Ireland like to have them to themselves, and therefore he trusted it would be energetically resisted by Irish Members. It stood to reason that a town would be better able to give expression to its own interests when it stood by itself than when it was grouped with one forty or fifty miles apart.
§ MR. BRADY
said, he must protest against the principle of this Bill, if, indeed, it contained any principle whatever. Household suffrage was granted in England but denied to Ireland. He objected to the £4 "hard line" borough franchise. He altogether objected to the £12 county franchise, and thought it ought to be reduced to £7, because the great mass of the people lived in small tenements. He compared the different franchises existing in England with those proposed to be given 1958 to Ireland, and contended that, in this respect, Ireland was most unfairly dealt with. Were it not for his belief that the Bill would be materially altered in Committee, he should second the Motion of his hon. Friend (Colonel French) that it should be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. O'BEIRNE
said, as he stated when the noble Earl introduced the Bill, that he could not see that any principle which had been hitherto proposed or accepted by the House had governed him in the preparation of it, he might, perhaps, be permitted, in justification of that opinion, which was expressed at the moment, to say that, having since had the opportunity of more carefully considering the clauses which referred to the re-distribution of seats, that he was confirmed in his opinion, and that he felt that that opinion could be fully sustained. They had had during the last Session, in many and protracted debates which some of them, at least, on this side of the House heard with weariness, a policy announced and insisted upon with reference to a reform of the English constituency which had been disregarded in the Bill proposed for Ireland. The House will permit him to call their attention to the comparative position of the English boroughs, as fixed by the English Bill, and the disfranchisement of the Irish boroughs and the distribution of the Members proposed to be liberated. In England there were no less than twenty-two boroughs sending Members to Parliament of a population less than 6,000. There were ten boroughs of a population less than 5,000. There were twenty-two boroughs of a population less than Bandon, eighteen less than Cashel, nine less than Kinsale, five less than Downpatrick, and four less than Dungannon. Upon what principle, then, by what mode of calculation had the noble Earl arrived at the determination to disfranchise those five Irish boroughs, and what did he do with the five Members? He gave one to the minority in Dublin. It was pretty clear what class of men that minority would return. Certainly not one who would add to the Liberal ranks in that House. He selected four baronies in Tipperary to form a new constituency—being perfectly well aware that those four baronies were Conservative, and would send a Member to aid the Conservative party to Parliament. [The Earl of MAYO said, he had heard that a 1959 result entirely different would be the case.] He thought he was as well informed on that point as the noble Earl; but of this he was quite satisfied, that the four favoured baronies to which he had referred would never have the opportunity afforded them which the noble Earl proposed to give them, as they would not permit his arrangement to be carried into effect. The other Members were given with the same intention to divisions of counties which were safe seats for the noble Earl's party, and doubtless if his Bill were carried in the shape in which it stood, it would be a very favourable party measure. Although he (Mr. O'Beirne) had no intention of offering any opposition to the second reading of the Bill, as he desired to affirm the principle that a Reform Bill was very necessary for Ireland, he assented to it only in principle; and he believed that little of it beyond the Preamble would be accepted by the House, as they were strong enough on that side to frame such a measure as would be a fair and useful one for the counties. He quite understood a party measure being produced. He could understand every effort of ingenuity would be exercised to win some strength by such a move; but he confessed he was not prepared for the introduction of a Bill such as that before them, which so openly and undisguisedly exposed the objects of its framer. An astute Minister might have wrapped up to some extent his designs; but the noble Earl had not done so. They knew what was intended, and he had no doubt whatever that they would yet succeed in framing a good and useful measure, differing in all essential points from that now on the table. As he had said, he had risen to set himself right with the House. He had proved, he thought, that, so far as disfranchisement and re-distribution, there was neither reason, principle, nor justice in the proposal, and he had, therefore, only to add, that he had no desire to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill, which must be made a good one in Committee.
§ MR. G. MORRIS
protested against the grouping scheme referred to by the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim). He suggested that, in accordance with the English Act, a schedule should be attached authorizing the payment of carriage hire to bring up the voters of boroughs to the poll, where, like Galway, the borough runs for a considerable distance into the county.
§ SIR JOHN GRAY
remarked that the Bill did not give the same advantage to Ireland as was given by the English Bill to England. He supported the second reading; but held himself perfectly free to make any alterations in the Bill in Committee. He thought the ballot absolutely essential to the protection of the voters.
THE EARL OF MAYO
said, he would not detain the House at any length, as the principles involved in the Bill were rather in the nature of details, which would be best discussed and disposed of in Committee. He was rather surprised to hear the objections which had been urged to the Bill on the ground of supposed differences from the English Act. It was based on principles which were identical with those of the English Act. The county franchise was put at precisely the same figure, and the borough franchise was also the same, being given to every tenant who paid poor-rates. It was quite true that circumstances had arisen in Ireland that, at an early period, would render an alteration in the principle of valuation necessary; but that was a question of valuation, not of the franchise. There was no substantial reason why the county franchise should be lower in Ireland than in England. With regard to the borough franchise, the point at which an occupier became liable to pay rates was £4; below that amount the occupier was exempt from the payment of rates; therefore, adopting residence and personal payment of rates as the qualification, they could not take any other amount. So much for the franchise; and he could not but hope that this, by far the most important portion of the Bill, would be adopted by the House, being essentially the same as that adopted by the House, after much consideration, for England. With regard to the re-distribution, perhaps the most interesting portion, the statements made to-night did not lead him to believe that it was probable any single scheme of re-distribution that could be proposed would be more acceptable, because no sooner did any Member propose a different scheme than it was immediately disapproved by others who followed. It was impossible to establish a system of grouping that would improve and elevate the borough representation. In the great portion of Ireland—certainly in three provinces—there were no materials for a satisfactory increase of the representation at all. The Government proposed in the place of 1961 six of the very small insignificant boroughs to create some very large, influential, and independent constituencies. Surely, in a country where agriculture formed the principal staple of industry, it was reasonable to take the representatives from these small boroughs, which, if they represented anything at all, represented agriculture, and give them to large and flourishing agricultural county constituencies. When the Government were taunted with departing; in this from the principle of the English Bill, it must be remembered that the circumstances of the two cases were different. In England yon had great manufacturing centres which, until last year, were unrepresented; but no places of that kind existed in Ireland. If you represented anything at all you must represent agriculture, and that could not be done more effectually than in the way proposed by the Government. It was objected that they had not drawn a line, taking all the smallest boroughs first. They had dealt with five of the smallest, and the only boroughs excepted, taking them numerically, were Mallow and Ennis-killen. The reason for taking the five boroughs mentioned in the Bill was because they were situated in localities to which the representation could justly and properly be transferred, and because the Government thought it better not to attempt to move the representation from the localities, but to transfer it from the small boroughs to the agricultural constituencies around them. That principle had only been departed from in the case of Portarlington, and that was a point to be discussed in Committee, as was also the proposal to adopt the minority principle, in giving a third Member to Dublin. For his own part, he should not regret if the Committee thought fit to divide the city of Dublin and give it three Members without adopting the minority principle. But he did attach importance to giving these single Members to divisions of the counties. He thought the opinions of the electors in those districts would be much more adequately represented, and a much more satisfactory principle of representation would thereby be created, than by turning these counties into three-cornered constituencies. The House would remember that the Government last year were no great advocates of the minority principle, and he should be sorry to see it extended to Ireland to any great extent. If a larger scheme of distribution were thought necessary by the Committee, he admitted that 1962 a case had been made out for giving additional representation to Ulster. As it was, unwarrantable attacks had been made upon the measure, which was said to be framed for party objects. Now, of the six boroughs which were proposed to be dealt with, three returned Liberal and three Conservative Members; there was no partiality in that respect, and he had never made any inquiries whatever as to the political effect of the measure. If the scheme of the Government were adopted, he believed that the representation, in a party sense, would remain very much as it now was, and he repudiated the extraordinary statements of the Liberal Members as to the want of independence on the part of the southern constituencies. If a powerful influence were exerted in one direction, an equally powerful influence was brought to bear on the other. He was sorry that such a state of things should exist in Ireland; but it did exist, and an alteration in the franchise was not likely to affect it materially. He hoped the Bill would be fairly considered in Committee. There was no party object to be gained by it. He believed that the principles on which it was based were sound, and the Government were only anxious to pass a measure which would render more influential and powerful in this House the representation of the people of Ireland.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday next.
§ House adjourned at half after One o'clock.